Winthrop begins its season this weekend, but will also pay tribute to a longtime friend.
The Johnny Gill Memorial, featuring Winthrop hosting three teams in a three-day tournament, kicks off the 2008 season as a project that has been brewing since March 2006. Gill, a Rock Hill native and passionate supporter of the baseball team, died then after a life spent supporting his hometown and his local collegiate team.
"We talked to the family, wanted to look at a way that we could honor him," coach Joe Hudak said. "We're very excited about doing that."
Gill was honored with his own day at The Winthrop Ballpark in 2005 and has been memorialized several times by the team since his death. The Eagles sported black "JG" patches on their sleeves during the 2006 season and when the renovations to the park were complete, they named their locker room after him.
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Winthrop tried to get the tournament started last year but couldn't get all the logistics in place, so it settled for this year. This is the start of a five-year commitment for the tournament, but Hudak hopes to keep it going after that period.
"As long as I'm here, I would want to have a chance to honor him," Hudak said.
Gill was the first president of The Eagle Club and the baseball team's Dugout Club, traveling with the team on several road trips and becoming a close friend, not just supporter, of Hudak. When Hudak was hired in 1992, he was advised to talk to Gill, and Hudak found an ardent fan.
Gill, hobbled by a leg surgery, would sometimes view practice from his van or golf cart parked beside the field. His impact was so great that the baseball players were honorary pallbearers at his funeral.
Only seven of the current Eagles were around in 2006, but they and Hudak plan on talking to the rest of the team about who Gill was and what he meant to the program.
"Johnny was a great guy," third baseman Bryn Henderson said. "He used to ride his golf cart over, pull up right there next to the home dugout. (The younger guys) ask us who he is and we tell them -- he was one of the biggest supporters of Winthrop baseball that we've ever had."
JOHNNY GILL MEMORIAL
The new schedule for the Johnny Gill Memorial, after rain wiped out today's proposed start.
Saturday -- Evansville at Winthrop, 1 p.m.; Gardner-Webb vs. St. John's, 4:30 p.m.
Sunday -- Evansville vs. Gardner-Webb, 11 a.m.; St. John's at Winthrop, 2:30 p.m.
Monday -- St. John's vs. Evansville, noon; Gardner-Webb at Winthrop, 4 p.m.